Trauma, treatment and Tetris: video gaming increases hippocampal volume in male patients with combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder

J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2020 Jul 1;45(4):279-287. doi: 10.1503/jpn.190027.


Background: Tetris has been proposed as a preventative intervention to reduce intrusive memories of a traumatic event. However, no neuroimaging study has assessed Tetris in patients with existing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or explored how playing Tetris may affect brain structure.

Methods: We recruited patients with combat-related PTSD before psychotherapy and randomly assigned them to an experimental Tetris and therapy group (n = 20) or to a therapy-only control group (n = 20). In the control group, participants completed therapy as usual: eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) psychotherapy. In the Tetris group, in addition to EMDR, participants also played 60 minutes of Tetris every day from onset to completion of therapy, approximately 6 weeks later. Participants completed structural MRI and psychological questionnaires before and after therapy, and we collected psychological questionnaire data at follow-up, approximately 6 months later. We hypothesized that the Tetris group would show increases in hippocampal volume and reductions in symptoms, both directly after completion of therapy and at follow-up.

Results: Following therapy, hippocampal volume increased in the Tetris group, but not the control group. As well, hippocampal increases were correlated with reductions in symptoms of PTSD, depression and anxiety between completion of therapy and follow-up in the Tetris group, but not the control group.

Limitations: Playing Tetris may act as a cognitive interference task and as a brain-training intervention, but it was not possible to distinguish between these 2 potential mechanisms.

Conclusion: Tetris may be useful as an adjunct therapeutic intervention for PTSD. Tetris-related increases in hippocampal volume may ensure that therapeutic gains are maintained after completion of therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / pathology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Combat Disorders / diagnostic imaging
  • Combat Disorders / psychology
  • Combat Disorders / therapy*
  • Depression / psychology
  • Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing*
  • Hippocampus / diagnostic imaging*
  • Hippocampus / pathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Organ Size
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnostic imaging
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Video Games*